Constitution Week – Foods of Our Forefathers Part II
The standard grains included wheat, barley, oats and rye. Finely ground wheat flour, “boulted” or sieved through a fine cloth, was used to make white bread for the rich early in the fifteenth century. Most of the gentry ate what we would call cracked or whole wheat bread. The poor ate bread of coarse-ground wheat flour mixed with oats, ground peas or lentils.
During the ocean crossing to the New World, immigrants subsisted on an even more monotonous diet for weeks. The Mayflower provisions were typical – brown biscuits and hard white crackers, oatmeal, and black-eyed peas, plus bacon, dried salted codfish and smoked herring for animal protein. The only vegetables on the trip were parsnips, turnips, onions and cabbages. Beer was the beverage.
As pilgrims set foot on their new homeland, they hardly knew what to expect. Each brought a stock of basic foods to get them through the first year, as well as a variety of basic utensils and kitchen tools. Also included were the essential accompaniments for whatever they found or could raise when they arrived – a bushel of coarse salt, 2 gallons of vinegar, a gallon of “oyle” and a gallon of aquavite.
Nothing they had been told, however, prepared them for the staggering variety of totally unfamiliar plants that were being used as food by the Indians – corn, sweet potatoes, peppers, pumpkins, squash, sunflower seeds and cranberries were examples. In addition to the strange food, there were strange ways of cooking. In Europe, meat was boiled; the Indians, lacking iron pots, roasted theirs on a spit over a fire. The Indians also had a long, slow cooking process that yielded what we now call Boston baked beans, and they used a fire-heated, rock-lined pit for what we would now call a clam-bake. Where the pilgrims were accustomed to raised wheat bread, the Indians introduced them to corn based spoon bread. Corn also provided hominy, used as a vegetable, and later, of course, as grits. For sweetening, the Indians used maple syrup and honey, as sugar was unknown.
Although many of the food the Pilgrims and other colonists found were totally strange, others had travelled the route before them. The Spanish had brought pigs, which thrived especially in areas where peanuts grew. Peaches and oranges were also native which spread throughout climatically suitable areas in a short time.
Even the white potato was an early migrant to the New World, following a zig-zag route, from its original home in Peru to Spain in 1520, from Spain to Florida forty years later, from Florida to England in 1565, always being treated as a culinary curiosity. By the 1600’s they had become a popular food staple in Ireland, and were carried by Colonists both to New England and Virginia, where they quickly established themselves. There they served as a valuable source of vitamin C, protein and trace minerals, in addition to the starch.
Potatoes, incidentally were significant in another, later migration to America: the climate in Ireland proved so amenable to their culture, and their nutrient content was so high, that many poor Irish farmers grew only potatoes on their small farms. In fact, as fathers subdivided farms for their sons, many found themselves supporting whole families on the potatoes grown on less than an acre of ground, while the family itself lived in a roofed-over ditch. When blight struck in 1845, the sole food source of millions of people literally withered away before their eyes. A half-million of the 8 1/2 million population died of starvation or disease, and 1 1/2 million emigrated to England or America – following the “Irish potatoe.”
Spices were in short supply in America’s earliest days. The English pretty well monopolized the trade with the New World. Within a few years, however, settlers had planted the seeds they had brought or imported, and most had adapted to the climate and were flourishing in orderly rows and patterns in kitchen gardens all along the Atlantic Coast. There were a few – ginger, pepper, cloves, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice – that simply couldn’t cope with the weather or soil – and were scarce. Olive oil, lime juice, prunes and saffron were available, but only at high prices.
To Be Continued…
Salt, spray, sea air, and warm sand underfoot are all the pleasant sensations of a day at the beach which stir cravings for good and hearty food. A perfect refreshment is a traditional beach-blanket banquet, complete with charcoal-grilled corn on the cob. You can prepare this picnic to feed a crowd or simply the family on any summertime trip to the beach. For a small group, you may want to take only half of the salad and leave the rest at home for a midweek supper.
Crunchy Egg Dip
Red Onion Slices
Barbecued Corn on the Cob
Mixed Bean & Artichoke Salad
Honey Applesauce Cupcakes
Beverages of Your Choice
Bake the cupcakes on the day of the picnic or bake them ahead of time and then freeze them. If they are frozen then let them thaw to room temperature on the morning of the outing. Frost them after they have thawed (if you are frosting them). Prepare the bean salad a day ahead and refrigerate it so the vegetables have time to marinate. Hard-cook the eggs for the salad garnish and the egg dip at the same time. On the morning of departure, slice the onions and tomatoes, and prepare the lettuce leaves; seal them in individual plastic bags or in small containers. Then prepare the egg dip and get the corn ready. Refrigerate the food that needs to be kept cold before packing it in the cooler. Have ready one or more large bags of potato chips and enough hamburger patties and French rolls for your picnicking party. You’ll also need a portable barbecue; potholders, a spatula, and tongs; and charcoal, charcoal starter, and fireplace matches.
Packing Your Picnic: Place the chilled beverages in the bottom of a roomy cooler. On top, pack the ears of corn and the egg dip. Tuck in the parcels containing the hamburger patties, garnishes for the salad, hamburger condiments, and butter for the corn. Carry all of the barbecue equipment in a sturdy box. In a roomy basket, pack the unbreakable items first, including serving spoons for the salad, a bottle opener, salt and pepper, and a knife for the rolls (unless they’re presliced). Fit in the cupcakes and the salad. Place the rolls and potato chips on top. For a sandy picnic, it’s always wise to carry extra paper plates, napkins, and pre-moistened towelettes.
At the Site: Start the charcoal about half an hour before you want to begin cooking; wait until the coals turn gray before grilling the meat and corn. Meanwhile, spread the blanket and let people nibble on potato chips and dip. If your site is very sandy or some of your guests are quite young, you may prefer to wait until the hamburgers and corn are almost ready before you unpack the rest of the food. Before serving the salad, stir it well; then garnish it with the egg slices, if desired, and artichokes.
Fresh sweet corn is one of life’s pleasures indeed. While corn is available all year-round here in America its true peak season is July through September. This is when corn is at its best.
Buying Tips: Buy ears that are firm and well-shaped under fresh-looking husks with shiny, moist milk. Unshucked corn stays fresh longer. Pick ears that look plump, with kernels running to the tops of the ears. Tiny kernels indicate immaturity, but very large deep yellow kernels can be chewy. The fresher the corn, the sweeter the kernels. With age, the sugar in corn converts to starch. Frozen and canned corn kernels are good substitutes for fresh. Canned baby corn is used in Asian stir-fries. One medium ear of corn yields about 1/2 cup of corn kernels.
Storing: Cook and eat corn as soon as possible after picking. If you must, refrigerate in the crisper drawer up to one or two days.
Preparing: Shuck the corn and remove the silk just before cooking. An exception is corn grilled with the husks intact. To remove the kernels, trim the tips so you can stand the ear on end, then slice down to cut off the kernels, cutting close to the cob.
Cooking: Corn is one of the most versatile vegetables. Sauté the kernels alone or with other vegetables; stir into puddings, fritters, or other batters; or roast, microwave, or boil on the cob. To boil, in a large saucepot, heat 3 inches of water to boiling over a high heat; add the shucked corn and heat to boiling. Do not add salt as it toughens the corn. Reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 5 minutes. Drain.
Have you ever come home from the market after purchasing fruit to find that you spent money for nothing? I have plenty of times and it ticks me off every time. Here are some Fruit Essentials that may help you have more fruit shopping success.
Did you know that many plants that are botanically fruits are not sweet? We think of them as vegetables or non-fruits. Avocados, beans, coconuts, corn, cucumbers, eggplants, green peppers, okra, peas, pumpkins, sugar peas, string beans and tomatoes all fall in the fruit category. Some cookbooks make a distinction between fruit, vegetables and fruit vegetables. Fruit vegetables are foods that are botanically fruits, but are most often prepared and served like vegetables. These fruits are considered fruit vegetables: Aubergine, autumn squash, avocado, bitter melon, cantaloupe, chayote, chile, courgette, cucumber, eggplant, gherkin, green bean, green sweet pepper, hot pepper, marrow, muskmelon, okra, olive, pumpkin, red sweet pepper, seedless cucumber, squash, sweet pepper, tomatillo, tomato, watermelon, wax gourd, yellow sweet pepper and zucchini.
Pectin is a substance contained in some fruit which is used for making jams and jellies thicker. High pectin fruits are apples, cranberries, currants, lemons, oranges, plums and quinces. Low pectin fruits are bananas, cherries, grapes, mangos, peaches, pineapples and strawberries.
Low pectin fruits seem to discolor quicker than high pectin fruits ( bananas and eggplants). Lemon juice or vinegar slows the discoloring process. Other fruits and vegetables that discolor quickly are avocados, cauliflower, celery, cherries, figs, Jerusalem artichokes, mushrooms, nectarines, parsnips, peaches, pears, potatoes, rutabaga and yams.
Bruising: When a fruit is bruised the cell walls break down and discoloration begins. The process can be slowed down by refrigeration.
Cleaning: It is important to clean our fruit and vegetables. Rinse fruit in cold running water and scrub as needed before cooking or eating. Soaking fruit in water for more than a few minutes can leach out water soluble vitamins.
Peeling: The fruit skin usually contains a lot of important nutrients, but if you need to peel a thick-skinned fruit cut a small amount of the peel from the top and bottom. Then on a cutting board cut off the peel in strips from top to bottom. A good way to peel thin skinned fruit is to place the fruit in a bowl with boiling water and let stand for about 1 minute. Remove and cool in an ice water bath. You could also spear the fruit with a fork and hold over a gas flame until the skin cracks OR quarter the fruit and peel with a sharp paring knife or potato peeler.
Wax: Oh those beautiful waxed apples that wink at us at the market. They are beautiful because they are waxed. I don’t know about you, but I would rather not eat wax. Wax can be removed from the surface of fruits by washing them with a mild dishwashing soap and then thoroughly rinsing them. This will remove most of the wax, but probably not all of it.
Purchasing Ripe: Purchase these fruits fully ripe: Berries, cherries, citrus, grapes and watermelon. All of the fruits in this list, except berries, can be refrigerated without losing flavor.
Purchasing Not-So-Ripe: Apricots, figs, melons, nectarines, peaches and plums develop more complex flavors after picking. Store these fruits at room temperature until they are as ripe as you would like them.
Refrigeration: You can refrigerate apples,ripe mangos and ripe pears as soon as you get them. Do not refrigerat bananas.
Seasonal Fruit: Winter is the season for citrus. Fall is the season for apples and pears. Late spring is the season for strawberries and pineapples. Summer is perfect for blueberries, melons, peaches and plums.
Washing: Dry fruit with paper towels or kitchen towels and then use a blow dryer on the cool setting to completely dry fruit.
Squeezing: A microwave can be used to get more juice from citrus fruits. Microwave citrus fruits for about 20 seconds before squeezing the fruit for juice.
“Food, one assumes, provides nourishment; but Americans eat it fully aware that small amounts of poison have been added to improve its appearance and delay its putrefaction.” – John Cage
There has been quite a bit of controversy these days about eating organic. Recent studies state that it really doesn’t matter if you eat organic foods or not. When something is labeled organic, it usually means that a farm has not used pesticides and has taken considerable care to avoid any cross-contamination. Producing organic food undoubtedly costs more money which is passed on to the consumer. Buying organic tends to be quite a bit more expensive than buying non-organic.
Honestly, I don’t care what the studies are saying about eating organic versus eating non-organic. I would rather not put pesticides into my body as well as wanting to support farmers and food companies that are not using pesticides. I love going to farmers’ markets during the spring, summer and fall and when I am shopping in the grocery store I am willing to pay a bit more for organic food.
If you have decided not to buy organic here is a list of foods that have found to be the most and least contaminated.